Messages from the Nursing Department
My Education in Writing as a Nurse
When I first began my education in nursing, I had already completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and countless prerequisite science courses, all of which required the submission of written assignments, including lab reports, research papers, and an original undergraduate thesis and scholarly project. Each individual educational path I have walked has required a specific type of learning to convey information unique to that discipline. Adapting to the style of writing required of the nursing profession has been my longest journey, first starting at Farmingdale College, when I began my Associate of Science degree in Nursing, through my Bachelor of Science in Nursing, my Master of Science in Nursing as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse practitioner, and finally as I begin to enter my doctoral program to complete my Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The written submissions from my psychology degree required structure, concepts, and communication styles that could not be applied to assignments in my nursing education. Communicating information in the field of nursing and medicine requires a style that allows for the reader to extract and apply information, while considering that the reader could be a patient, a colleague, a physician, a nurse, a student, a practitioner, or any of the countless other healthcare professionals who work toward a patient’s health and wellness. Effective communication is one of the most important aspects of nursing, and its importance is underestimated when thinking of what it means to be a nurse. It was through my time in writing-specific courses, including “Developing Nurses’ Way of Knowing,” at Farmingdale College, that I first learned of the skills I would apply through all those degrees and would go on to appreciate many years later.
In nursing, the greatest goal is safe, efficacious, and high-quality patient-oriented care, but when we look at the art of writing as a nurse, the perspective of the reader determines how the written material must be presented. Nurses are researchers, teachers, advocates, lobbyists, and philosophers, forced to ask questions, seek answers, and present this information to contrasting groups of readers. Learning to develop written assignments as a nurse was a struggle that would not have been as tolerable without the writing intensive courses that I attended through my nursing education. From learning to write care plans, discharge summaries, research results and papers, grant applications, process recordings, history and physicals, and case study presentations, the process of developing a nursing-centric way to writing has been a work-in-progress that continues to this day.
One of the key components to successful writing that I have learned as I developed my writing skills as a nursing student, is approaching each individual project as a unique entity, requiring a personalized plan based on the topic and who my reader is going to be. The further along I traveled in my nursing career, the more the requirements of the profession evolved. As an entry-level nursing student enrolled in an ADN program, I received written assignments based on presenting information that I had obtained from other people’s written research and from nursing theorists. I would formulate a paper that identified that topic with the purpose of educating the reader on the basics of the idea. When I began my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, I was expected to take those ideas and apply them to different aspects of the nursing profession and practice, aiming to enhance the art of nursing, which often included patient education and understanding the process of becoming an expert nurse. Finally, when I entered my Master of Science program at Stony Brook University, my writing was focused on analyzing my own work and clinical experiences and expressing how my perceptions affected my patients and my ability to act as a provider through professional reflections. As I look to the future and begin my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, I will now have to merge each of the other educational paths into one trajectory as I develop my clinical practice thesis, with the goal of contributing to the existing body of knowledge for other providers so that together we can better patient outcomes. Each step of my education has required the development and building upon the writing skills that I learned and applied in prior coursework.
Learning to accept that the first draft of an assignment will not be my only draft was paramount to my success as a writer. The journey from draft to draft has become one of the most rewarding aspects of my process, and watching the evolution of an idea through self-reflection, application of crucial writing rules, formatting, and self-preservation has taught me more about myself than I anticipated. I have often struggled to stay organized throughout the writing process, and by accepting that the finished product will progress from a collection of itemized ideas in an outline to a coherent and cohesive submission, I have prospered through my career. The running head has stereotypically become the last step of every paper I have written in APA format, and I have learned to look at it as the finishing touch, the final garnish to a job well done.
When I first became a nurse, I do not think that I understood how important the art of written communication would be in my career. Assignments in the freshman years of my education were focused on putting together concepts so that others could understand them; it was not until many years later as a nurse practitioner that I realized it was just as important that I understood exactly what I was writing so that I could reflect on the ideas I compiled. I realized how crucial this would be to not only everyone’s understanding of me, but also my understanding of myself. Nurses are not necessarily known for their writing skills, but there are few jobs that require regular, original documentation in the same quantity demanded of nurses, with as many adjustments depending on the target audience and where the writing is displayed. Care plans, process recordings, case studies, quality improvement projects, research papers and electronic health records are just a few of the many regular avenues where nurses are required to write, regardless of their place of employment. The skills that I developed in those first few months as a nursing student in my first nursing classes are just as relevant to me now, as a DNP student, as they were back then.
As I enter this final chapter of my nursing education, I know that the goal of “effective communication, regardless of the topic,” which was first proposed to me in my first writing intensive course at Farmingdale State College, remains the biggest priority as a scholarly writer. As writers, nurses must be able to convince the writer that they are intellectually elevated, compassionate, adaptable, and unbiased, all while constantly reflecting on the purpose of their writing. If not for the writing intensive courses that I was forced to weather as a nursing student at Farmingdale State College, I would not have had the skills, practice, patience and understanding of the writing process as a nurse and I would not be the advanced practice nurse that I am today.